Opinion | America’s Red State Death Trip


A 2018 article in The Journal of the American Medical Association looked at changes in health and life expectancy in U.S. states between 1990 and 2016. The divergence among states is striking. And as I said, it’s closely correlated with political orientation.

I looked at states that voted for Donald Trump versus states that voted for Clinton in 2016, and calculated average life expectancy weighted by their 2016 population. In 1990, today’s red and blue states had almost the same life expectancy. Since then, however, life expectancy in Clinton states has risen more or less in line with other advanced countries, compared with almost no gain in Trump country. At this point, blue-state residents can expect to live more than four years longer than their red-state counterparts.

Is this all about deaths of despair in the eastern heartland? No. Consider our four most populous states. In 1990, Texas and Florida had higher life expectancy than New York and almost matched California; today, they’re far behind.

What explains the divergence? Public policy certainly plays some role, especially in recent years, as blue states expanded Medicaid and drastically reduced the number of uninsured, while most red states didn’t. The growing gap in educational levels has also surely played a role: Better-educated people tend to be healthier than the less educated.

Beyond that, there has been a striking divergence in behavior and lifestyle that must be affecting mortality. For example, the prevalence of obesity has soared all across America since 1990, but obesity rates are significantly higher in red states.

One thing that’s clear, however, is that the facts are utterly inconsistent with the conservative diagnosis of what ails America.

Conservative figures like William Barr, the attorney general, look at rising mortality in America and attribute it to the collapse of traditional values — a collapse they attribute, in turn, to the evil machinations of “militant secularists.” The secularist assault on traditional values, Barr claims, lies behind “soaring suicide rates,” rising violence and “a deadly drug epidemic.”



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